Late last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the final rules implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The regulations apply to employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor organizations (unions), and joint labor-management committees. The ADAAA was enacted Sept. 25, 2008, and became effective Jan. 1, 2009. The ADAAA overturned a series of Supreme Court cases, expanded the number of workers who are considered disabled under the ADA and increased the number of employers who must make reasonable accommodations for these employees.
The regulations retain the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or past history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability. But the regulations implement the significant changes that Congress made regarding how those terms should be interpreted.
The regulations implement Congress’s intent to set forth predictable, consistent, and workable standards by adopting “rules of construction” to use when determining if an individual is substantially limited in performing a major life activity. These rules of construction include the following:
- The term “substantially limits” requires a lower degree of functional limitation than the standard previously applied by the courts. An impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.” Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability.
- The term “substantially limits” is to be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
- The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment, as was true prior to the ADAAA.
- With one exception (“ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses”), the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures, such as medication or hearing aids.
- An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
- In keeping with Congress’s direction that the primary focus of the ADA is on whether discrimination occurred, the determination of disability should not require extensive analysis.